If last night was an indication of how the season is going to go in the A.L. East, then we are in for a wild ride over the next six months. The Orioles jumped out to an early lead last night, saw it disappear, took it back, lost it again, came back to tie it, then lost it in the end to walk off home run by Matt Joyce. Two teams that had fantastic bullpens in 2012 saw them struggle tonight. Whether it was an anomaly or the dreaded regression (although I don't hear any people talk about how the Rays are due to regress...) remains to be seen.
Just as they did in game one, the Orioles were facing a pitcher that they've had a lot of trouble with in the past. Jeremy Hellicksion had faced the Orioles 12 times before last night with a 2.30 ERA. And just as they did in game one, the Orioles didn't waste any time putting runs on the board. After Hellickson retired Nate McLouth and Manny Machado to start the game, the Orioles had a two-out rally. Singles by Nick Markakis and Adam Jones set the table for Chris Davis, who hit his second three-run home run in as many days. Unlike his home run in game one, when Davis put a majestic swing on the ball, this one he just kinda flicked his bat out and hit the ball to the opposite field. That's not to say it was a cheap home run; it was hit well into the stands. He's a very strong man, if you haven't noticed.
The 3-0 score held in the game through the first five innings. Hellickson settled down after the first inning and from the second through fifth innings, gave up only one hit. It was a double to Davis, of course. As for the O's starter Wei-Yin Chen, he had some troubles early on but was helped out by his best friend.
In each of the first three innings, Chen allowed the leadoff batter to get on base. He was getting hit pretty hard, but each time he then induced a ground ball that turned into a double play. Through three innings he gave up four hits but miraculously didn't give up a run. He looked really good in the fourth and fifth innings, but things got dicey in the bottom of the sixth.
Let's go back to the top of the sixth first, though. Keep things in chronological order and all that. Machado started the inning and while the box score shows a double, if you didn't see it you might be mislead. Machado hit a ball weakly to the right side. The Rays first baseman was playing well off the bag and it just squirted past him, but it was so weakly hit that it just kind of trickled into right field so by the time the right fielder raced in to get it, Manny was on second base.
It looked like Manny might get stranded when Markakis and Jones were retired, though he did move to third on Markakis's fly ball out. But luckily for the Orioles, Chris Davis then came to the plate. Davis had already been on base twice and made it a third time with a single to right field. Machado scored and the O's were up 4-0.
After Desmond Jennings doubled and Ben Zobrist singled him in for the first Rays run of the game, Buck Showalter had seen enough and removed Chen with two outs in favor of....Luis Ayala! With a runner on? To face Evan Longoria? OK then. Ayala, predictably, did not retire Longoria, but even the staunchest Ayala hater (which I most certainly am not) wouldn't have predicted what would happen next. Shelly Duncan came to the plate with two outs and two runners on, and I felt myself sigh in relief. Oh, the Rays and their lineup, I chuckled to myself as I waited for Duncan. Ayala then threw him a meatball that Duncan hit for a three-run, game-tying home run.
The O's fought back with a run in the top of the seventh and took the lead on an RBI single by McLouth, but they then hit into a double play of their own to end the inning.
Pedro Strop started the seventh for the Orioles and it wasn't pretty, even if it wasn't all his fault. After getting one out, the Rays hit two soft ground balls that shouldn't have left the infield. But they hit them both against the shift the Orioles were employing and ended up on base. Strop then allowed the tying run to score on a wild pitch and gave up two more runs before it was all over.
The Orioles got one run back in the eighth on back-to-back doubles by Chris Davis (of course) and Matt Wieters, then tied the game in the ninth against closer Fernando Rodney. Nolan Reimold worked a walk that Rodney thought should have been a strike out, then Roberts doubled down the left field line. It looked like it would be a close play at home but the relay guy cut off the run and the Orioles had tied the game.
With Roberts already in scoring position, the Orioles decided to have McLouth bunt him to third. A questionable decision with Machado coming up, and Manny was indeed not up to the task of hitting a long fly ball. Rodney got him to ground out to the drawn in infield, then Markakis also grounded out to end the inning. Personally I would have rather had an extra chance to get Roberts in from second.
Tommy Hunter had pitched the eighth inning for the O's and looked great. He came back out for ninth, but wasn't there long. He went 3-1 on Matt Joyce before Joyce hit a no-doubt-about-it homer to end the game. As his teammates mobbed him at the plate, I decided that walk offs are stupid.
So now the Orioles will try to take the series this afternoon before coming home. I hope Miguel Gonzalez is up to the task.